Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Right Wingers Attacking Rep. Murtha

Rep. Jack Murtha is a conservative Democrat. He's to the right of me on a number of issues but I'm for him. I watched him single-handedly take on the Republicans on the floor of the House last fall when he announced that he no longer supported the war in Iraq and that it was time to start bringing our troops home. He's a man who talks to the generals and when generals quietly talk to well-informed representatives like Jack Murtha, who has been in the military and, in fact, was a former Marine himself, you know something's going on. While Republicans villified Murtha on the floor of the House, they were unable to address the many effective points that Murtha was making.

Few things are more important in war than military discipline. The overwhelming majority of our troops in Iraq are handling themselves well but, since the summer of 2003, there have been growing problems. The reality is that the longer a war goes on, the more likely it is that discipline will break down, particularly when policies at the top are in drift; this is true of any military forces in the world. In addition, the civilian leadership in the Pentagon have made blunders that contribute to problems on the ground. Sweeping the events at Haditha under the rug is not the way to handle the issue.

Instead of dealing with the problems of a war poorly run from the White House and Pentagon, right wingers are attacking Jack Murtha for speaking the truth. Media Matters has the story:
Various conservative media figures have attacked Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) for his recent appearances on ABC's Good Morning America and This Week, in which Murtha addressed the alleged murder of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines at the Iraqi town of Haditha in 2005. Murtha, one of several lawmakers to have been briefed on the military investigations into the matter, said the Marines shot the Iraqis "in cold blood," and, citing sources within the military, claimed that there was an attempted cover-up of the incident. Murtha also said: "It's an isolated incident. But that's why it's so important to get it out in the open and get the punishment at the appropriate places." However, Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and Neil Cavuto, among others, attacked Murtha for "bomb-throwing" and "bashing" the military, when in fact Murtha, who had been briefed on the matter, has limited his criticisms to those allegedly involved in the incident and the reported cover-up.

The alleged Haditha massacre was first publicly revealed in an article in the March 27 edition of Time. According to that article: "In January, after TIME presented military officials in Baghdad with the Iraqis' accounts of the Marines' actions, the U.S. opened its own investigation, interviewing 28 people, including the Marines, the families of the victims and local doctors." The Los Angeles Times reported on May 29 that Murtha, Sen. John Warner (R-VA), and other members of Congress "have been briefed on the U.S. military's investigation into the deaths of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians."

I want to add again that there is a personal element in all of this for me. My oldest brother trained at Camp Pendleton and served in Vietnam. Years later, he worked as a civilian at Camp Pendleton. His daughter currently has a boyfriend who is stationed at Camp Pendleton and who recently returned from Iraq. So I have met a fair number of Marines in my life and they're good people. I have met many Marines whose politics I disagree with and two or three Marines who were far too hot-tempered, but almost all the ones I met took their jobs and responsibilities seriously. I have enormous respect for them. But those who know about these things know that Haditha has to be dealt with. It's just the way it is.

UPDATE: S.W. Anderson always has excellent comments but be sure to read his comment just below here. And check out his site.

Tony Blair's Speech on World Affairs

Six years ago, I had respect for Tony Blair. In the last five years, I believe he has made a number of blunders and damaged his credibility so that I find it difficult sometimes to hear what he has to say. I have to remind myself that in late 2002 and 2003 there were times he was trying to get Bush to take a more sensible approach on Iraq even as he went along with so much of the nonsense. I'm not excusing Blair, but he's always been more thoughtful about these things than Bush even if he allowed himself to be dazzled by the Bush circle.

Democracy Arsenal has a post on Blair's speech that's worth reading. I disagree with a number of things Blair says but he makes a number of useful points. Here's an excerpt from the Blair speech that would actually be useful if somebody else were saying it:
...the rule book of international politics has been torn up. Interdependence - the fact of a crisis somewhere becoming a crisis everywhere - makes a mockery of traditional views of national interest. You can't have a coherent view of national interest today without a coherent view of the international community. Nations, even ones as large and powerful as the USA, are affected profoundly by world events; and not affected, in time or at the margins but at breakneck speed and fundamentally. Why is immigration the No.1 domestic policy issue in much of Europe and in the US today? What are the solutions? The answer is that globalisation is making mass migration a reality; and only global development will make it a manageable reality.

Which is the issue that has rocketed up the agenda of most political leaders in a way barely foreseen even 3 years back? Energy policy. China and India need energy to grow. The damage to the environment of carbon emissions is now accepted. It doesn't much matter whether the issue is approached through energy security or climate change, the fact is we need a framework, internationally agreed, through which the developing nations can grow, the wealthy countries maintain their standard of living and the environment be protected from disaster. And this is not a long-term issue - though its consequences are long-term. It is here and now.

Largely excellent words (though I object to the idea of immigration being the number one problem). But then, Blair proceeds to lose me in the very next paragraph and it is the evidence for me that he has a poor realization of the disaster of the last four years:
The point is that in respect of any of these challenges, certain things stand out. They affect us all. They can only be effectively tackled together. And they require a pre-emptive and not simply reactive response.

I have no problem with thinking ahead but let's be done with words like 'pre-emptive' and start focusing on where we are and not where some wish we were. No amount of rhetoric or public relations is going to repair the damage that Bush has done. Only a change in policies, a departure of people like Cheney and Rumsfeld, and hard work will lead to the necessary repairs. Whether that begins in three weeks or three years, it has to begin.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Afghanistan: The Job Bush Left Unfinished

One of the reasons I opposed the war in Iraq was that Afghanistan was far from a finished job. In the winter of 2003, Bush had put Afghanistan on the back burner but it didn't take much digging into news stories in the back pages of various news sites to realize that Afghanistan was not a sure thing. The joke at the time, and not much has changed in the last three years, was that Karzai was not the president of Afghanistan but just the president of Kabul.

Furthermore, Pakistan, having established itself as a nuclear power, had problems we couldn't ignore though we have pretty much patched over some of those problems while the State Department has occassionally put out small wildfires. It's also important to remember that Osama bin Laden found a home in the northwest territory of Pakistan.

Juan Cole of Informed Comment has a post on conditions in Afghanistan:
The Bush administration is in the midst of "imperial overstretch" on a grand scale. Taking on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, convincing Pakistan to change its policies, and reconstructing Afghanistan would have been a tough enough job. It might not have been possible even with the investment of enormous resources and personnel. Afghanistan is large and rugged and desperately poor. Bad characters are still hiding out in the region, who have proved that they can reach into the United States and hit the Pentagon itself.

Instead of doing the job, Bush ran off to Iraq almost immediately. Even as our brave troops were being killed at Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in spring of 2002, Centcom commander Tommy Franks was telling a visiting Senator Bob Graham that the US "was no longer engaged in a war in Afghanistan" or words to that effect, and that military and intelligence personnel were being deployed to Iraq. The US troops in Afghanistan would have been shocked and disturbed to discover that in the Centcom commander's mind, they were no longer his priority and no longer even at war! As for money, Iraq has hogged the lion's share. What has been spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan is piddling.


Monday's riots in Kabul, in which altogether 14 died and over 100 were wounded and during which thousands thronged the streets chanting "Death to America", also produced violent attacks and gunfire throughout the city, with hotel windows being sprayed with machine gun fire. The protests were sparked by a traffic accident. But they have other roots.

The US military presence in Afghanistan has quietly been pumped up from 19,000 to 23,000 troops.

A fresh US airstrike in Helmand killed some 50 Afghans on Monday Over 400 Afghans have been killed by US bombing and military actions in only the past two weeks.


Despite Bush administration pledges to reconstruct the country, only six percent of Afghans have access to electricity. Less than 20 percent have access to clean water. Although the gross domestic product has grown by 80 percent since the nadir of 2001, and may be $7 billion next year, most of that increase comes from the drug trade or from foreign assistance.

With Bush, it's always too little and too late. We saw proof of that even in his domestic policy. His response on American soil to Hurricane Katrina would have been unacceptable to any president since the end of World War Two. Dealing with Afghanistan on its own merits would have been a tough enough job as it is. One of the ironies, however, is that by going to Iraq Bush has limited his options in many foreign policy situations.

If Bush drags us into war with Iran, three wars may turn out to be more than our economy can handle. And our foreign policy options elsewhere will largely be zero. Such a third war would endanger our national security, not improve it.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Some Republicans Suggest Talks with Iran

In 2003, the neoconservatives who prided themselves on being the 'most forward-thinking' were already talking about dealing with Syria or Iran as soon as Iraq was taken care of. Some of those neocons have left the administration and other neocons, particularly those in the media who helped Bush make his case for war, have been taken less seriously over time.

I never considered Rumsfeld or Cheney to be neocons though they obviously made an alliance with the neocons. The distinguishing characteristic of neocons is that they kept talking about bringing democracy to the Middle East, and some neocons actually believed in the goal. Not for a moment should anyone take seriously the notion that Rumsfeld or Cheney cared about the democracy project. There are already books that have been written about the first two years in Iraq and the theme that comes through, besides the incompetence of Cheney and Rumsfeld, is that they never bothered to coordinate much with those working to bring democracy to Iraq and often these two worked at cross-purposes with others. Cheney and Rumsfeld are right wing conservatives who exaggerate threats partly because their poor judgment sees enemies everywhere and partly because they have discovered that there is personal advantage to them in exaggerating those threats. Their word, love of power and judgment are not to be trusted.

As long as Cheney and Rumsfeld remain in the Bush Administration, the possibility of an attack on Iran will continue to be quite real anytime between now and late summer of next year. There is some noise that we may be backing away from a possible attack on Iran, and, indeed, if there has been a decision by Bush to go slower on Iran, I would simply caution that Bush may be waiting until after the midterm elections to deal militarily with Iran.

Laura Rozen of War and Piece has an article in the Los Angeles Times (hat tip to Steve Soto of The Left Coaster) about the growing concern of Repubican realists and moderates:
Amid concern that the U.S. is drifting toward eventual confrontation with Iran, a growing number of influential statesmen, Republican senators and foreign policy experts are stepping up pressure on the Bush administration to consider doing what no U.S. administration has done in 27 years: talk directly with Iran.

In recent congressional hearings, think-tank conferences, op-ed essays and media appearances, Republican heavyweights — including former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) — have publicly urged the administration to leave the current path of escalation and join European allies in direct talks with Tehran.

The public campaign parallels private efforts by GOP insiders, foreign policy specialists and U.S. allies abroad to influence the thinking of key administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Elliott Abrams, who oversees Iran policy at the National Security Council. Both have met recently with foreign diplomats and outside experts and have discussed U.S. diplomacy with Iran.


...the administration may be forced to change as a result of "pressure from Europeans, from the Russians, and the general sense that they are just on a wicket they can't sustain there," the expert said.

As pressure on the White House intensified in the last week, there were signs of slight but significant shifts in the administration position.

Press Secretary Tony Snow repeated the administration's refusal to consider direct talks but said things could change if Iran suspended its uranium enrichment efforts and committed to halting them permanently.

"When that happens, all right, then there may be some opportunities," Snow said.


A decision to talk to the Iranians would be a dramatic departure from the administration's strategy of isolating the Tehran regime. Critics of engagement, including Vice President Dick Cheney and influential neoconservatives, say such talks would legitimize a duplicitous regime and represent a blow to Iranian human rights activists and dissidents.

The Bush administration has sought to support anti-regime efforts.

Such hawkish voices have dominated in the administration and Congress, but a perceptible recent shift seems to favor Republican foreign policy "realists" and moderates.

Pressure for talks involving the United States began to build after the collapse of a Russian-sponsored compromise on Iranian nuclear enrichment this year and after disagreement in the last month within the U.N. Security Council on the best approach.

"Some of the E.U. members were nervous that things were really going downhill very fast and headed to military confrontation," said one nongovernmental energy consultant knowledgeable about the internal debate. "When [the Russia proposal] failed, all bets were off. And that prompted thinking that there has got to be another way."

Visiting German officials urged the administration to hold direct talks in April, and Rice has met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who favors greater U.S. involvement.

Lugar held two days of testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this month featuring speaker after speaker who proposed some form of dialogue.

"The witnesses generally shared the view that no diplomatic options, including direct talks, should be taken off the table," Lugar said. "Direct talks may in some circumstances be useful to demonstrating to our allies our commitment to diplomacy [and] reducing the risk of accidental escalation."

Let's keep in mind that in addition to 'Republican heavyweights,' there has been a chorus of generals calling for Rumsfeld to resign; their calls have a great deal to do with putting the brakes on a military strike against Iran.

President Bush, other administration figures and Bush's right wing supporters in the media have repeatedly said they do not wish to take the military option off the table. Note the last paragraph in the quote above where Senator Lugar asserts: no diplomatic options, including direct talks, should be taken off the table.... Bush has spent much of the last five years avoiding diplomacy or even a foreign policy that makes sense. That is a position the United States can no longer afford. The job in Afghanistan is far from finished. Trouble in Iraq continues day after day. We do not need a third war nor do we need a foreign policy that continues to be based on false assumptions.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Rep. Jane Harman on Iran

Jane Harman is known as a Democratic centrist. She supported the war in Iraq but now sounds a bit more like the admirable Jack Murtha, a conservative Democrat who also voted for the war but who has been listening to the generals and, for the last six months, now believes it's time to start bringing the troops home. Rep. Harman wrote an opinion piece on Iran a few days ago; here it is in the Agonist:
Listen carefully in Washington these days and you're likely to hear a faint drumbeat for war.

If this sounds a bit familiar, that's because you've heard it before. Nearly four years ago, the Administration began to make the case for invading Iraq. We were told that Saddam Hussein was refusing to give up his weapons of mass destruction, that he wouldn't comply with international arms inspectors, and that he was harboring terrorists. We were also told that the people of Iraq would be so appreciative of the "liberation" of their country that they would greet us with flowers.

Today, a similar drumbeat is building for Iran.


The Bush Administration's incompetence and arrogance have undermined stability in the region. Donald Rumsfeld is the architect of the war and he should be fired.

A smart policy on Iran must begin with good intelligence. Before the drumbeat for war gets any louder, I'm demanding more accuracy and less hype.

That's why I strongly supported an Amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act that would require classified quarterly reports to the Intelligence Committees on Iran's nuclear program. The Republican-led Rules Committee chose not to allow the House to debate that Amendment -- a move that I deemed so egregious that I voted against the Intelligence funding bill for the first time in my career.

We have little clarity on Iran's capability and intentions. This is not the time to talk of war.

It's a good piece but it should be noted that Rep. Harman is in a primary against a strong critic of the war in Iraq. But maybe that's the point. It's time for every member of Congress to think clearly about our policy in Iraq and our foreign policy in general, given the growing criticism of the administration's blunders in Iraq and its many misleading statements before the war, and given the growing concern about possible war in Iran either this year or next.

A growing number of people recognize that what this country needs is a Congress with backbone that is capable of holding in check Bush's reckless and incompetent behavior. For five years, Republicans have demonstrated that when it comes to Bush, they have no backbone. Now that they are in danger of losing elections this fall, Republicans will likely be putting on a charade for the next few months in an effort to make voters forget the failures of the last five years. In the case of Democrats like Jane Harman, the issue is more complicated; it will be up to the voters to decide if Rep. Harman has the backbone to stand up to Bush or not, and whether her recent comments are a real step in the right direction.

Maureen Dowd on Haditha

Many of the stories I post on I know in depth. Occassionally, I turn to newer stories. Some of the newer stories are straightforward and I post on them and either move deeper into an evolving story or I move on. But with other new stories, I circle around them reluctantly, not quite knowing what to do with them. Haditha is one of those stories and more. For those of us who respect the military, who have had many relatives and friends in the military, it's a painful story to read. War crimes are nothing new but each and every one of them has to be confronted no matter who was responsible. I'm knowledgeable about World War II and I know of war crimes that are still not fully documented in the history books (as an example, massacres of civilians occurred in China but because suspicion fell on the Chinese Nationalists and Chiang Kai-shek and because the situation was considered 'politically sensitive,' these war crimes were never pursued though photographs existed).

Haditha is a story any number of us could see coming. Even in the summer of 2003, there was some concern about breakdowns in discipline, though later stories attributed some of the problems to paramilitary contractors. Those responsible at Haditha will have to be held accountable but accountability must also include a White House and Pentagon that misled us into this war and have allowed this war to go on too long and allowed things I frankly don't understand such as Abu Ghraib and Fallujah.

Maureen Dowd has a thoughtful piece that is republished in Truthout:
So I felt sickened to hear about the marines who allegedly snapped in Haditha, Iraq, and wantonly killed two dozen civilians - including two families full of women and children, among them a 3-year-old girl. Nine-year-old Eman Waleed told Time that she'd watched the marines go in to execute her father as he read the Koran, and then shoot her grandfather and grandmother, still in their nightclothes. Other members of her family, including her mother, were shot dead; she said that she and her younger brother had been wounded but survived because they were shielded by adults who died.

It's a My Lai acid flashback. The force that sacked Saddam to stop him from killing innocents is now accused of killing innocents. Under pressure from the president to restore law, but making little progress, marines from Camp Pendleton, many deployed in Iraq for the third time, reportedly resorted to lawlessness themselves.

...many deployed in Iraq for the third time. That's a lot to demand from volunteers. While our president tells our nation to go about its business and demands almost nothing by way of sacrifice...

The overwhelming majority of men and women who serve in the military are good, hardworking people willing to put themselves on the line to do a job. If we set aside for the moment an Iraq policy that was highly flawed in its conception, the reality is that we have a military that is not designed to stay in the field year after year, that never initially had the resources it needed and that was never fully trained in peacekeeping or dealing with insurgencies. The problems of this day can be traced to the civilian leadership in the offices of the Pentagon and White House thousands of miles from Iraq. I fear we may hear more stories in time to come.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

After the Fall of the Soviet Union

fragments at Moscow-- photographer, Bob Tyson

The Lady Speaks on Memorial Day

The blog, The Lady Speaks, has a thoughtful post on veterans.

1776: Washington Learned from His Mistakes

I just finished David McCullough's 1776. It's a good book but I was struck by this one passage:
Seeing things as they were, not as he would wish they were, was known to be one of Washington's salient strengths....

George Washington would never have gotten far if he hadn't learned from his mistakes. It took him a year and a half to get the hang of being a general. He seemed to do rather well in the years that followed.

After five years, Cheney, Rumsfeld and another president named George still don't seem to know how to govern though their expertise at blaming others seems to grow by the day.

The End of Bush's Ascendency

For me, any pretense that President Bush was serious about doing something with his presidency ended with the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the disgraceful outing of Valerie Plame as a way of diverting attention from the truth about Iraq: the truth being that the inner circle of the Bush Administration had manipulated intelligence to build a phony case for war. It's now three years later and Howard Fineman, in Newsweek, writes about George W. Bush and his relationship to Kenneth Lay:
If you want a date to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush era in American life, you may as well make it this one: May 25, 2006. The Enron jury in Houston didn’t just put the wood to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. The jurors took a chainsaw to the moral claims of the Texas-based corporate culture that had helped fuel the rise to power of President George W. Bush.
Unlike many critics of the Bush Administration, I suppose I'm actually grateful that the mainstream media has finally come around to recognize Bush for what he is: a failed president who tried to use public relations to create a reality that was never there. In essence, that's very much the story of Enron: a Texas pipeline company that went way beyond its original business and prided itself on 'creative' concepts that could never live up to the hype. One of the ironies of Enron is that it sold the pipeline portion of its business a few years before it went under. The pipeline business was considered boring by the corporate wunderkind but it was one of Enron's few assets that wasn't an illusion.

Fineman fails to mention that Enron and its executives were very generous campaign contributors to Bush and the Republicans and that America's oil sector donated far more money to the Republican Party than to the Democrats in recents years, Enron included. Actually I suppose I ought to be disappointed that Mr. Fineman largely spends the rest of his article backing away somewhat from the assertion of his first paragraph—but that paragraph will go into the history books.

People like me don't write those books but there will be a number of emblematic moments in the Bush Administration that will always be remembered in terms of Bush's failures. The grandstanding and arrogant strutting on the Abraham Lincoln will always be one of those moments; Bush seemed utterly unaware how little he understood the situation in Iraq and how damaging his case for war was to our nation's credibility and to his presidency.

Then there are the multiple images of Bush failing to deal with Hurricane Katrina; they were painful to watch as the nation witnessed a president struggling to keep up with his job while incompetent political appointees Bush should never have hired added to the blunders.

And understandable accident though it may have been, Dick Cheney shooting his friend in the face recalled all too well an incompetent administration that had literally been described before the accident as the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

History books are also written by the rest of the world and the most shocking image demonstrating the Bush disaster, the image that will last, was one of an Iraqi detainee standing on a box connected to disturbing-looking wires, with arms outstretched and a hood on his head; this was not the America the world thought it knew; it was certainly not the one admired for being the leader of the free world.

Bush's public relations skills took him far but, lacking anything beyond that, those skills have cost our nation dearly. And the cost keeps climbing. And the illusion that neocons and right wingers have anything useful to offer our country is finished.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Piecing Together the NSA Story

One of the things to keep in mind about the NSA domestic spying scandal is the difficulty of piecing together the story from different officials. I suspect, from what I'm reading, that probably less than a dozen people in the Bush Administration know what the NSA spying programs (note the plural) are all about, and that number might be closer to a half dozen. From what I can surmise, the NSA programs are highly comparmentalized; this means official 1 knows about components A and B, official 2 knows about components C and D, official 3 might know about components E and F, and so on with some midlevel officials having overlapping knowledge of the components. This makes it difficult to know how extensive these programs are and how thoroughly illegal. NSA officials are not the type of people to break their silence unless there are things going on that are truly beyond the pale.

Justin Rood of TPMMuckraker has a post reviewing some of what we know at this point:
...looking at stories over the last year or so by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the latest entry from USA Today (plus a bit of my own research), I get the following picture:

After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government assembled a cross-departmental effort to comb the United States for possible terrorist activity. Using massive databases and largely untested analytical techniques, the NSA generated thousands of false "leads" which were passed to the FBI. There, agents issued thousands of secret warrants for personal information, and spent thousands of man-hours chasing the results -- which were negligible. And you and I paid for it.
There are two key things to keep in mind when all the information around the NSA domestic spying scandal starts to get confusing (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is apparently counting on that confusion). First, the programs are generating thousands of tips (some have said thousands of tips a day) that are being given to the FBI and that are going absolutely nowhere. This is a paranoid, Cheney-style, fishing expedition.

Second, when the Senate was considering John Bolton for UN ambassador, some questions came up about NSA intercepts of other administration figures that Bolton may have illegally used in an effort to undermine other members of the Bush Administration during some turf battles. The Senate demanded information from the White House about the NSA intercepts but that information was never provided and John Bolton was never confirmed by the Senate. John Bolton is a recess appointee which is extremely rare for such an important position (and it should be noted that his term will be up next January where once again he will be subjected to a confirmation process). If Bolton used the NSA intercepts in his turf battles, this is evidence of using NSA intercepts for political purposes. That the Senate queries were never answered speaks volumes. And it's not the only evidence that the NSA and the Pentagon are using domestic intelligence for political purposes.

The refusal of Congress to investigate or hold Bush accountable cannot go on without continuing to do considerable damage to our democracy.

Bush Cronyism in the Attorney General's Office

The NSA domestic spying program needs to be investigated. It was launched without the approval of Congress and without the understanding or approval of the American people. The program is a violation of any number of principles that Americans have held dear no matter what their party is. That Bush has defenders of the NSA spying is only because people have no idea how easy it is to abuse such a program and how far of an overreach it is of government power.

So when the government fails to do its job, people need to be concerned. When the government chooses not to do its job for political reasons, we have a major problem. This is something our Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, has trouble understanding. He has forgotten that his job is to uphold the law, not do legal favors for the White House.

Steve Soto of The Left Coaster posted this earlier today (bold emphasis mine):
Last week, we were told the Office of Professional Responsibility inside the Abu Gonzales Justice Department was forced to close an internal investigation into whether or not DOJ officials acted appropriately in authorizing the NSA wire-tapping program, a probe that was promised to Congress back in January. OPR said it closed its probe because they were unable to obtain security clearances presumably from the Director of National Intelligence for DOJ investigators to review NSA material.

We now find out, thanks to Shane Harris and Murray Waas, that in fact it wasn’t John Negroponte who shut down this investigation, because the evidence sought by the investigators was already in DOJ’s possession. It appears that the investigation was shut down by Abu Gonzales himself, who wanted to place the blame on Negroponte rather than shine the light on himself.
Here's more from Shane Harris and Murray Waas of The National Journal:
An internal Justice Department inquiry into whether department officials -- including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft -- acted properly in approving and overseeing the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program was stymied because investigators were denied security clearances to do their work. The investigators, however, were only seeking information and documents relating to the National Security Agency's surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department's possession, two senior government officials said in interviews.

It is not clear who denied the OPR investigators the necessary security clearances, but Gonzales has reiterated in recent days that sharing too many details about the surveillance program could diminish its usefulness in locating terrorists.

The investigation was launched in January by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility -- a small ethics watchdog set up in 1975 after department officials were implicated in the Watergate scandal. The OPR investigates allegations of official misconduct by department attorneys, not crimes per se, but it does issue reports and recommend disciplinary action. The current Justice Department inspector general has determined that OPR is the office responsible for investigating the professional actions of the attorney general involving the NSA program.

The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking about the NSA's eavesdropping program was what had already been given to Ashcroft, Gonzales and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials said. And, by nature, OPR's request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn't extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies, the two officials said.


Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, said that his staff "never, ever was denied a clearance," and that OPR had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of attorneys general. "No attorney general has ever said no to me," Shaheen said....

Let me repeat the key passage: The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking about the NSA's eavesdropping program was what had already been given to Ashcroft, Gonzales and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program...

There has never been anything denied to the OPR from the Attorney General's office. Only Alberto Gonzales would physically be able to deny access and it's not clear that he has the legal authority to do so. Nor is it clear why Gonzales, Ashcroft and other attorneys should have clearance and not OPR investigators who have the highest credentials for investigation. To some extent, it's as if the president has said Congress is forbidden from investigating him. That is not what the US Constitution says. Congress wrote the law on OPR and neither Bush nor Gonzales have the authority to override the OPR in the Justice Department.

Alberto Gonzales has repeatedly proved that his loyalty is to George W. Bush, not the law and not the US Constitution. He should step down immediately or at the very least recuse himself from any investigation involving the president and the vice president and his own department.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rove May Have Been Source for Novak

I have been following the phony WMD story in Iraq and the subsequent outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame for three years and nine months. I was wondering when Bob Novak would reenter the picture.

The bottom line of today's story is that it may turn out that Who's Who won't be much of an alibi for Novak after all, not that any of us following these events ever bought that story (Mrs. Joe Wilson worked under Valerie Plame in her CIA work; believe me, the exact name Novak used is a big deal). I freely admit I've lost track of the multiple stories that have been put out by the White House (probably through Rove himself) and the creative licenses taken by friends of Bush, but I have no doubt a bulldog like Patrick Fitzgerald is chasing down and bagging most of these multiple versions in the course of his investigation (including Rove's and Libby's serial memory lapses). Murray Waas has the story (hat tip to TPMMuckraker):
On September 29, 2003, three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, columnist Robert Novak telephoned White House senior adviser Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the federal grand jury testimony of both men.

In the early days of the CIA leak probe, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was briefed on a crucial conversation between Robert Novak and Karl Rove.

Suspicious that Rove and Novak might have devised a cover story during that conversation to protect Rove, federal investigators briefed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft on the matter in the early stages of the investigation in fall 2003, according to officials with direct knowledge of those briefings.

Ashcroft oversaw the CIA-Plame leak probe for three months until he recused himself and allowed Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to be named to take over the investigation on December 30, 2003. Ashcroft received routine briefings about the status of the investigation from October to December of that year.

Sources said that Ashcroft received a special briefing on the highly sensitive issue of the September 29 conversation between Novak and Rove because of the concerns of federal investigators that a well-known journalist might have been involved in an effort to not only protect a source but also work in tandem with the president's chief political adviser to stymie the FBI.

I suspect the above story is reasonably accurate but it's important to take all of this with a grain of salt. One way to look at this is to think of all the multiple versions Bush has given our nation about why we're in Iraq and what is actually happening there. Iraq is easier to see simply because everything is out in the open and there is only so much Bush can say where he won't be laughed out of the room. What Bush says and what the reality is have not often matched in the last five years.

Dirty games behind closed doors in an administration famous for being the most secretive in our lifetime are much more difficult to assess. But I can't deny that the story here has a certain plausibility that matches the arrogance that we have come to expect from Mr. Novak. Now it would be fine by me if Novak is somehow innocent in this affair. The real issue is what happened in the White House in the summer and fall of 2003; and who did what and when. And the issue beyond that is the fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have still not been held accountable for deceiving our nation when making their case for war with Iraq. The intelligence was manipulated. We know that now. And we are still waiting for real investigations of that side of the story.

Kenneth Lay of Enron Convicted

It's been a long time in coming but the verdict today is guilty. Given that I'm from California and that Kenneth Lay's company was one of several energy companies deliberately manipulating prices in 2000 and 2001 and that my wife and I had to pay through our noses like millions of other Californians, I cheer his verdict and wonder what took so long. The verdict, however, did not address the energy manipulation itself but rather a few of the other frauds Skilling and Lay committed. The Los Angeles Times has the story:
Former Enron executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling were found guilty today on most counts in their landmark conspiracy and fraud case.

In the end, the jury of eight women and four men embraced the testimony of a parade of former Enron executives who said Lay and Skilling lied publicly about the energy company's financial health and condoned, if not actively encouraged, the use of accounting tricks to boost reported profits and hide debt.

The verdicts, which were reached after the jury deliberated for more than five days, were read aloud in a Houston courtroom.

Lay, 64, the company's former chairman, was found guilty on all six counts of fraud and conspiracy. Former chief executive Skilling, 52, was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in addition to one count of insider trading, 19 counts in all; he was acquitted of the nine remaining insider trading charges. One of the fraud counts against Skilling included the misstating of Enron's financial situation during the California energy crisis.

Skilling and Lay are having trouble admitting their guilt and that to me is a reflection of America's corporate culture over the last twenty-five years during which time corporations brazenly sold a philosophy that 'greed is good' and executives placed themselves above the law and the good of their workers, investors and communities. That culture has not ended. Not by a long shot.

No one should forget that in the years before its collapse Enron was a heavy contributor to the Republican Party and that Kenneth Lay was very much involved in Bush's campaign and even gave Bush the use of his private jet at times. Given the ties of President Bush and Vice President Cheney to people like Kenneth Lay, it's going to take time to bring the corporate culture back to a more responsible and ethical stance. Former oil executives Bush and Cheney will never be a willing part of the solution. Nor will their Republican friends in Congress.

Trial of Former Bush Administration Figure

There have been a number of minor figures involved in some of the scandals that have been uncovered in the last year. One of those figures is David Safavian and his trial has been going on this week. Here's the story from Reuters:
A former Bush administration official lied to investigators in an attempt to hide the influence-peddling activities of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

In opening statements at the first trial in connection with the Abramoff scandal, prosecutors tried to paint David Safavian as a liar while his lawyer denied the charges and accused the government of basing its case on "guilt by association."

Justice Department lawyer Peter Zeidenberg said Safavian took advantage of his position to help his friend, a top Washington lobbyist with strong ties to leaders in Congress, particularly in the Republican Party.

"He worked first and foremost to further the interest of one particular individual -- a rich and powerful lobbyist and personal friend of the defendant, Jack Abramoff," Zeidenberg told 12 jurors and two alternates.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to fraud charges and is cooperating with prosecutors in a corruption probe that could implicate more officials and lawmakers.

Tom DeLay, the former Republican House leader and once one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, stepped down from Congress and resigned his seat after becoming embroiled in the Abramoff scandal. Two of his former aides and a former aide to Ohio Republican Rep Bob Ney have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the investigation of a conspiracy to bribe members of Congress in return for legislative favors.

I'm not sure why the media has not been covering in depth the story of the minor congressional and administration figures who are being investigated and, in some cases, prosecuted. Further coverage would give the lie to the notion that the Abramoff scandal is somehow small potatoes or somehow bipartisan. It would also become clear that the people involved in the Abramoff scandal are all Republicans and that we're talking about a corrupt political machine involving a significant part of the Republican leadership and their cronies. Those interested in more should read TPMMuckraker which is following these stories closely and has much information to add.

Fitzgerald May Call Cheney as a Witness

After a drought of stories I specifically have been looking for, I keep finding curious items tonight. Fitzgerald seems to be raising the stakes a little higher in the Scooter Libby case and what is still an ongoing investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. Editor & Publisher has the story from the Associated Press:
Vice President Dick Cheney could be called to testify in the perjury case against his former chief of staff, a special prosecutor said in a court filing Wednesday.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald suggested Cheney would be a logical government witness because he could authenticate notes he jotted on a July 6, 2003, New York Times opinion piece by a former U.S. ambassador critical of the Iraq war.

Fitzgerald said Cheney’s “state of mind” is “directly relevant” to whether I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s former top aide, lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury about how he learned about CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity and what he subsequently told reporters.


In a filing last week, Libby’s lawyers said Fitzgerald would not call Cheney as a witness and would have a hard time getting the vice president’s notes admitted into evidence.

“Contrary to defendant’s assertion, the government has not represented that it does not intend to call the vice president as a witness at trial,” Fitzgerald wrote. “To the best of government’s counsel’s recollection, the government has not commented on whether it intends to call the vice president as a witness.”

A quick check of the internet confirms that a number of news outlets are carrying the story. I won't comment at the moment since the timing of these things has been subject to uncertainty but filings like these carry weight (for some background, here's three recent recent posts on Donkey Path concerning the investigations: Armitage as possible witness, Rove, and Libby). There's real information in the above article and it's a sign that things are about to get interesting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hastert under Investigation

House Speaker Dennis Hastert is under investigation. ABC News has the story (hat tip to Paul Kiel of TPMMuckraker who, along with Justin Rood, has been doing original reporting on the Abramoff and Cunningham investigations):
Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

One thing that needs to be asked about Dennis Hastert is why so many special favors found their way into legislation that he's responsible for handling. Either Hastert is a boob who's easily fooled or he's known what a lot of the nonsense was about. It's astonishing Republicans have not raised any concerns.

UPDATE: Paul Kiel of TPMMuckraker has a late post on the investigation.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Shifting Winds in Washington?

The recent tax cuts in the face of enormous deficits and the political pandering around immigration are embarrassing to those of us who would like to see our country get back on track. And certainly the possibility that Bush may launch an attack against Iran anytime between now and the summer of 2007 is a sobering thought. But the wind is shifting in Washington. Things are being said that I don't believe are particularly accurate but it's worth listening in as we bear witness to the changes, whatever they may mean. Here's Michael Hirsh of Newsweek:
An old word is gaining new currency in Washington: containment. You may be hearing a lot more of it as the Bush administration hunkers down for its final two years. Containment of Iraq’s low-level civil war, which shows every sign of persisting for years despite the new government inaugurated this week. Containment of Iran’s nuclear power, which may lead to a missile defense system in Europe. Containment of the Islamism revived by Hamas and Hizbullah, by the Sunni suicide bombers in Iraq, as well as by the “Shiite Crescent”—as Jordan’s King Abdullah once called it—running from Iran through Southern Iraq and into the Gulf.

During the cold war, containment doctrine was based on the premise that the Soviet Union was a powerful force that was going to be around for a long time to come. Containment’s chief author, George Kennan, concluded that the best Washington could do was to keep the Soviet bloc penned up in its sphere of influence until it expired of its own internal problems...


No such strategizing surrounds the current version of containment. Indeed, few people in the Bush administration will even concede they are thinking in such terms, because the president has not permitted an honest reckoning of the difficulties he faces. On Monday, Bush again appeared to sidestep the realities, calling the new “free Iraq” “a devastating defeat for the terrorists.” Back in Iraq, however, it was just another typical day: some 20 Iraqis died in bombings and drive-by shootings, with few or no arrests.

So today’s containment is a furtive policy being developed willy-nilly behind the scenes, as Bush’s pragmatic second-term officials seek to clean up the vast Mideast mess left by the ideologues who dominated in the first term.
For a number of years, words that gained currency in Washington have been a certified nuisance rather than possible signs of useful ideas or dialogue; to name a few: preemptive strike, contract with America, ownership society, regime change, trickle-down economics, moral values, character, creating reality and compassionate conservativism are just a few I've had my fill of. So immediately I'm wary of whatever words the Washington of this particular era finds useful. Certainly Hirsh's article suggests it would be a step in the right direction to pull back from a reckless foreign policy to one that is more measured while effectively protecting our national security.

But Hirsh sees possible pragmatism while I, as a distant outsider, am more inclined to see continuing chaos and desperation on the part of Bush, on the part of people like Cheney and Rumsfeld and on the part of the various factions on the Republican side of Congress. In an effort to stop the cascading failures, expediency can easily be mistaken for pragmatism. I fully expect to see a lot of useless pandering to the voters between now and November that fail to address any of our problems which now include: two wars (possibly three), numerous neglected and unaddressed foreign policy and diplomatic issues including Iran, huge deficits, a loss of national credibility both in terms of our word in international relations and our ability to get things done, the failures of Katrina that still are unaddressed, an energy crisis, corruption, cronyism, a reckless disregard for the national good and the continuing erosion of good-paying American jobs (I have no doubt I missed a few).

And yet Hirsh, being closer to the action, might be on to something. Perhaps failure is finally sinking in and the players of Washington know that business as usual will no longer play on main street. For one thing, war is profitable for only so long. And perhaps Republicans and their wealthy backers are beginning to understand that the organized and legal sacking of America may be damaging the economy that is paying the bills for so much of the Republican Party's extravagant nonsense.

Hirsh ends his article with these words:
The biggest problem with the new embrace of containment in this era, of course, is that it is largely unconscious—and it has gone unacknowledged in public. It may be time to call it by its name.

Now that's a useful observation but consciousness is not a small hurdle in the George W. Bush presidency.

Molly Ivins on the Bush Wreckage

During the 90s, I was a big fan of Molly Ivins and I still am but for the last three years I felt she was often three to six months behind the times. Now this is far preferable to many other journalists, like Thomas Friedman, who have often been three years behind the times. I missed a very good Ivins article from last week and here's a few paragraphs:
Looking at the wreckage of the Bush administration leaves one with the depressed query, "Now what?" The only help to the country that can come from this ugly and spectacular crack-up is, in theory, things can't get worse. This administration is so discredited it cannot talk the country into an unnecessary war with Iran as it did with Iraq. In theory, spending is so out of control it cannot cut taxes for the rich again; the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bushies is already among its lasting legacies.

As we all know, things can always get worse, and often do. I rather think it's going to be up to the Democrats to hold the metaphoric hands of this crippled administration until it limps off stage. The Republican National Committee has a new scare tactic for the faithful: You must give to the party, or else the Democrats will spend the next two years investigating the administration (horror of horrors)....


Barring emergency, I suspect the wisest thing Democrats can do in the next two years is to begin steadily undoing what Bush hath wrought -- on tax and spending, on global warming, and on surveillance and other illegal lunges for power. George W. Bush ran in 2000 as a moderate. He did not bother to inform us at the time that he felt the government of this country needed a much stronger executive above the law. Congress has sat by passively while this administration accrued more and more power. If members of Congress think the legislative branch should be equal, it's time for them to stir their stumps.
Molly Ivins is right that Bush cannot persuade the country into yet a third war, this one in Iran, but I wish she had qualified her statement by reminding people that Bush sometimes charges ahead anyway hoping he can somehow land on his feet.

I still favor impeachment of Cheney and Bush and I favor it because it is exactly the kind of thing the founders of our country put that clause in the US Constitution for. And if impeachment were ever to happen (okay, I'm not holding my breath), the logic of impeachment would have to begin with Cheney and then Bush.

I don't mind Molly Ivins discussing other options besides impeachment so long as she includes the need to hold Bush accountable. I'm not rigid on these things and I believe in building consensus when opinions vary widely, but I think calling for impeachment is in itself an important thing that must be done given all that has happened.

I will settle for reform and accountability in the end. The crooks and incompetents need to be held in check and the sooner the repair of our nation begins, the better. But it's important to remember that Bush is still capable of digging a deeper hole for our nation.

Interview with John Dean

Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive has an interview with former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean on the comparison between Nixon and George W. Bush. It's a long interview but here's an excerpt:
Q: I’m very interested in the comparisons you make between Nixon and Bush.

Dean: Both mean learned about the Presidency from men they greatly respected: Richard Nixon from Dwight Eisenhower, George Bush from his father. When both men became President, you got the very distinct impression that they don’t feel that they quite fit in the shoes of the person from whom they learned about the Presidency. Nixon would constantly be going down to Key Biscayne, San Clemente, or Camp David—he just didn’t like being in the Oval Office. I saw this same thing with George Bush, who is constantly away. The other striking similarity is that both men talk in the third person about the office of the President. It’s like the royal we. You look at other Presidents, like Reagan and Clinton, who clearly filled that office. You almost had to pry Clinton out at the end of his term. And Reagan, despite whatever weaknesses he had intellectually, filled the role of President and played it to the hilt. So Bush has a Nixonian distance from the White House.

And I was stunned at the secrecy of this Administration. I knew that there’s no good that can come out of secrecy. So I began looking closely at Bush and finding the striking Nixonian features of this Presidency: It’s almost as if we’d left an old playbook in the basement, they found it, dusted it off, and said, “This stuff looks pretty good, we ought to give it a try.” As I dug in, and still had some pretty good sources within that Presidency, I found the principal mover and shaker of this Presidency is clearly Dick Cheney, who is not only reviving the Imperial Presidency but expanding it beyond Nixon’s wildest dreams.

The reason I wrote a book with the title “Worse than Watergate,” and I was very cautious in using that title, is because there was a real difference: Nobody died as a result of the so-called abuses of power during Nixon’s Presidency. You might make the exception of, say, the secret bombing of Cambodia, but that never got into the Watergate litany per se. You look at Bush’s abuses, and Cheney’s—to me, it’s a Bush/ Cheney Presidency—and today, people are dying as a result of abuse of power. That’s much more serious.

Q: Dying in Iraq?

Dean: Dying in Iraq. God knows where they’re dying. In secret prisons. To me the fact that a Vice President can go to Capitol Hill and lobby for torture is just unbelievable. Just unbelievable! The fact that a small clique of attorneys in the Department of Justice can write how can we get around the Geneva Conventions so that we can torture during interrogations—I can’t even get there mentally. And when you read their briefs, they didn’t get there mentally.

Q: The amazing thing about your book is that it was written before Cheney went up to lobby for torture, before the NSA scandal broke, and before the Valerie Plame thing.

Dean: They just keep walking into my title and adding additional chapters.

Q: Talk a little bit more about Dick Cheney. You call him “co-President” in your book.

Dean: I do. It was evident, even at the beginning, when Cheney was very confident they were going to win at the Supreme Court. I’ve got some friends who were in there and they were telling me what was happening, and they said Bush doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. Cheney’s setting things up the way he wants. He’s designing a National Security Council that’s more powerful than the statutory National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice. And it was, and it is. She was the perfect foil for him because he can roll over her anytime he wants, and he does. Putting her over at State is even better: Keep her out on the road. The Cheney-Rumsfeld connection has really been driving the foreign policy since day one.

John Dean learned about the limits of power the hard way and I respect what he says. I consider myself a liberal Democrat but one of the things about being reality-based and about demanding to know the facts before drawing conclusions is that you find yourself agreeing with people across a wide spectrum who you wouldn't necessarily think you would agree with.

I agree with the connection of the Bush Administration with the Nixon Administration (Cheney and Rumsfeld worked for Nixon and always felt that Nixon should have fought his legal problems harder; later they worked for Gerald Ford who had a reputation for being a moderate but Cheney and Rumsfeld were very right-wing even for that era). I agree that it's absurd that an administration can somehow justify torture. I particularly agree that Condi Rice was used as a decoy to obscure where the real power of the Bush Administration is based; that situation has too often been overlooked by a compliant media.

Somebody needs to write the story of the Bush Administration from about November 2003 to April 2004; for a brief time, Condi Rice was finally given some power but it appears that Cheney and Rumsfeld used Abu Ghraib and Fallujah to grab back what little power Rice had been given. The point is that for a few months, Bush asserted himself over Cheney and Rumsfeld and never did so again; Bush probably asserted himself because he was terrified of the mess Cheney and Rumsfeld had made in Iraq and what that implied for the 2004 election.

Bush won in 2004 because of Karl Rove and although Bush has once again committed himself to Cheney and Rumsfeld, it should never be forgotten that those two nearly cost Bush his second term. Bush could probably save the rest of his presidency by dumping Cheney and Rumsfeld but the truth is that he is as committed to the radical foreign policy agenda as the two older men. No one should be fooled by the soothing language Bush and his Republican friends will be using between now and the midterm elections.

US News Profile on Murray Waas

Murray Waas, one of the reporters who has been following the Fitzgerald investigation closely and has written stories on the legal problems of Scooter Libby and other White House figures involved in the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson, is interviewed in this week's US News & World Report:
...the slightly disheveled Philly native has always managed to remain well under the public's radar – refusing to appear on television, toiling independently as a freelancer until recently joining the respected National Journal, and always working the phones and a network of sources from his Northwest Washington home.

But his cover's been blown. With the publication in recent months of his news-breaking stories on the Bush administration's involvement in manipulating prewar Iraq intelligence – particularly its attempt to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and to out his CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame – Waas has gotten a sometimes bitter taste of what he refers to as his "five minutes of fame." He's now dealing not only with sources and editors but also pesky cable television bookers who never get the answer they want and new interest in his personal and professional life.

"I'll welcome my obscurity back. Obscurity is my natural state of being. I'm comfortable with it. And it's a great companion," says Waas. But his journalism will continue to draw attention to him. Waas's exhaustive National Journal stories on special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's inquiry into the leak of Plame's name to reporters has been praised by media critics and White House watchers – Jay Rosen of "PressThink" called him the new Bob Woodward, and columnist Dan Froomkin of chided large media organizations for not acknowledging and following up on his disclosures.

Though Waas has been knocked a bit off balance by the bright light now shining on him, he says he wants to keep pushing "to really get to the bottom of how we got into the war – the prewar politics and whether the American people were told the truth."

Yes, Virginia, there was a time when print reporters were more interested in getting the story than appearing on TV. I don't mind a reporter appearing on TV to explain a story that's just been written but for the last twenty-five years, I've seen far too many print 'reporters' leave their in-depth reporting behind for the potential of those dazzling six and seven figure salaries on TV. I don't want to put Murray Waas on a pedestal. But I'm glad there's still people like him around.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Classified Military Spending

By far, the United States has the largest military in the world. That makes Bush the most powerful leader in the world. And by far, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are the second and third most powerful individuals in the world. Increasingly, it has become difficult to trust these three men.

I have no problem with national defense. But I'm bothered by the increasing budgets for secret military spending in a world where there is no longer a second superpower that somewhat matches our strength. What is all these excess of power for? And where is the money going to justify our huge military budget? And I'm astonished that Republicans seem largely uninterested in an obvious question: where's the pay-off? Here's a story by Drew Brown of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau:
Classified military spending has reached its highest level since 1988, near the end of the Cold War, a new independent analysis has found.

Classified, or "black," programs now appear to account for about $30.1 billion, or 19 percent, of the acquisition money the Defense Department is requesting for fiscal year 2007, according to Steven M. Kosiak, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, an independent policy-research organization.

The figure is more than double the amount the Pentagon requested in 1995, when classified military acquisition spending reached a post-Cold War low. It apparently reflects an increase in intelligence funding and a surge in new weapons research and procurement since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Drew Brown is referring to acquisition money which I suppose refers to the purchase of hardware; at least that's how I read his article. So that begs the question of how much other money is going to 'black' operations (I'm not sure what the official term would be), including the NSA domestic spying, overseas special forces operations or the kinds of destabilization games that Rumsfeld seems to have in mind or other covert operations?

And I'm not sure how much of the identified military spending is going towards contractors, mercenaries and paramilitary types which may be getting funding through 'normal' channels. The fact of the matter is that other than the $30 billion plus (pick a number) for 'black' programs for which we cannot expect much accounting from this administration, there has been very poor accounting of where tens of billions of our 'normal' military and intelligence money has been going in the last five years. As long as Republicans remain in control of Congress, it does not appear that Americans will receive the answers.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Leakgate Investigation Tightens Around Libby

Scooter Libby is already indicted. Remember him? Dick Cheney's right-hand man? The White House would like to forget him. They would also like to forget that the role of Cheney and Karl Rove has never been fully understood by the public. Here's a story by Walter Pincus of The Washington Post (hat tip to Democratic Underground):
The classified status of the identity of former CIA officer Valerie Plame will be a key element in any trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, according to special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald has said that at trial he plans to show that Libby knew Plame's employment at the CIA was classified and that he lied to the grand jury when he said he had learned from NBC News's Tim Russert that Plame, the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, worked for the agency.

If there are no new developments in Leakgate this week, I want to go back to the press conference Fitzgerald gave when Libby was indicted last fall. Fitzgerald gave a number of reasons why the investigation was important and why the investigation has gone so slow. What Fitzgerald said is worth revisiting. There was never anything trivial about the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson.

Will Bush Drag Us into War with Iran?

I've voiced my concerns about Bush's policy toward Iran on a number of occassions. I don't know if war with Iran will take place. And if there is a war, I don't know whether that war will be before the November elections or after the elections. Without going into detail, I've seen some indications that an attack a year from now would make more sense than in a few weeks from now (not that an attack on Iran would provide us with any kind of foreign policy, military or economic advantage). Given that we still don't know why Bush went to war in Iraq, we're faced with a foreign policy apparatus that no longer makes much sense. Therefore, under the new rules, anything is possible. Steve Soto of The Left Coaster has a must-read post today on Iran:
I have been conversing lately with retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, whom I have been in contact with since his groundbreaking study on how the White House sold the Iraq war to the nation. You will recall that Gardiner moderated an Atlantic Monthly war game exercise targeting Iran for their December 2004 edition, so he knows what indicators to look for in gauging not if, but when the Bush Administration is ready to strike against Iran. In a previous piece, I passed along the four step sequence that Gardiner predicts will be followed in any Bush Administration attack against Iran.

I followed up on that recent post with another email exchange with Gardiner to get his updated assessment of the likelihood of an attack, and when, as well as the Administration’s grasp, or lack of, the consequences of such an attack. I also exchanged emails with Professor Juan Cole to get a sense of what he thought the reaction would be inside Iraq to an attack by the United States against Iran.

Be sure to read the rest. Keep in mind that a string of generals have been trying to do their best to respect American military tradition while at the same time warning Americans that we have a problem. The focus of the generals has been Donald Rumsfeld but Rumsfeld's policies are fully endorsed by Bush and Cheney. And it's Bush who will ultimately decide whether we go to war with Iran or not. If Congress were to open investigations into our Iran policy and our status in Iraq, I'm sure the generals would have a great deal more to say.

If Bush goes to war with Iran, it's possible there may be only a token public relations campaign. An incident with Iran may quickly be exaggerated into a major bombing attack on Iran's military installations and then specifically, its nuclear sites. Bush has demonstrated many times in his life that there comes a point where he simply just stops listening and stops caring. Attacking Iran would constitute the biggest gamble in the life of George W. Bush. And this is a man who cannot distinguish between his lousy luck in business and the generosity of his father's friends. In Bush's life, winning has consistently been an illusion.

But Bush is not the only problem. We can no longer afford the paralysis of Congress. This is the time when Congress needs to lay down the law. Without Congressional authorization, Bush does not have the authority to launch the United States into his third major war because of his right wing fantasies or his poor numbers in the polls. Time may be running out. If Americans feel that it is time for Bush to catch Osama bin Laden, finish the war in Afghanistan and clean up the mess in Iraq and that we have no need for an even more costly war in Iran, now is the time to write those letters.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


trees and shadows by Bob Tyson

The Plame Games Continue

The big news this week was that Karl Rove was not indicted and George W. Bush tried to change the subject. All I will say is that I know too much to give Karl Rove a free pass.

In the investigation of who outed CIA operative Valerie Plame, the name of former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has surfaced. There was some speculation this week that Armitage might be a target of Special Prosecutor's Fitzgerald investigation. That didn't sound right to me though one never knows. In most administrations, Richard Armitage would be the conservative of the administration but in the Bush Administration, he and, even more so, Colin Powell pretty much played the roles of moderates, at least by comparison. Armitage is a tough player but helping Scooter Libby and Karl Rove play their games somehow doesn't seem to be Armitage's style.

It may turn out that if any of this stuff ever gets to trial, the prosecution may use Richard Armitage as one of the witnesses and that makes more sense to me; for the moment, I'm inclined to stand by Truthout, even if Jason Leopold needs to find out what happened to his earlier story about Rove's indictment; Truthout turns to a story in The New York Daily News:
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has emerged as a key witness in the CIA leak probe, the Daily News has learned.

Armitage has been questioned several times, but is not expected to be indicted by the federal grand jury investigating who outed CIA spy Valerie Plame to journalists in 2003, sources said.

Armitage's testimony could hurt Vice President Cheney's indicted former chief aide Lewis (Scooter) Libby, or President Bush's political guru, Karl Rove.

Two sources familiar with the case said Armitage, Rove and Libby all had contacts with the press about Plame. Unlike Rove and Libby, Armitage appears to have tried to dissuade reporters from writing about her.

I urge treating these stories with a certain amount of skepticism until there is an official announcement of some sort on the investigation. I sense high stakes games being played and people like Karl Rove are highly motivated to mislead and bamboozle the public; he has been known to plant multiple stories. And he would have no trouble getting help to play his games. But that is exactly what the Valerie Plame affair is all about: an arrogant and reckless game of deceit that got out of control.

All I want to know is who outed Valerie Plame and why Bush refuses to deal with the issues involved. America is still waiting for the answers.

Reid Working to Hold Bush Accountable on Iran

Four years ago, I became aware that Bush was interested in something called the preemptive strike principle and his intended target seemed to be Iraq. I was skeptical, but I listened, because up to then American presidents had usually taken foreign policy seriously. I never imagined the level of dishonesty and ideological stupidity that was soon demonstrated by Bush and his advisers.

I was startled to find that Americans everywhere were subjected to a 24/7 public relations blitz based more on what would sell rather than what was true. A year later, we learned of the White House Iraq Group, a somewhat ad hoc group of political as well as national security types, who quite literally put together a plan to sell the war to the voters just in time for the midterms elections.

Maybe someday the historians will track down how many hundreds of millions were spent on a campaign designed to convince Americans that Iraq was an imminent threat when no such threat existed (yes, we all know the administration avoided using the phrase, 'imminent threat,' but there was never any question what the intent of the campaign was; 'mushroom cloud' is a powerful substitute for 'imminent threat'; case closed).

Of course, we discovered there were no WMDs and no nuclear program worthy of the name. There was just a sad broken country that Bush didn't know what to do with. And we are still there and Bush stilll doesn't know what to do. There are American deaths nearly every day and we are spending billions with nothing to show for it. And Bush is apparently thinking about attacking Iran.

Senator Harry Reid and other Democrats are saying, wait a minute—we've been down this road before and you've haven't even finished your first two wars. ABC News has the story:
Senate Democrats, saying they want to "avoid repeating mistakes made in the run-up to the conflict in Iraq," sent President Bush a letter Friday urging him to direct the nation's intelligence agencies to prepare an updated National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.

"We must have objective intelligence untainted by political considerations or policy preferences and a comprehensive debate in the Congress about the best short and long-term approaches to resolving the international community's differences with Iran," the Democrats' letter said.


The letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois, Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Armed Services Committee ranking member Carl Levin of Michigan and Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Joe Biden of Delaware.

If diplomacy fails, if the leadership of Iran does not change, there is a possibility that Iran will have nuclear weapons in another ten to fifteen years. And if Bush decides on another war, we will be told once again that dealing with Iran cannot wait. If people don't see the problem with this, they're not paying attention.

Iran is a serious problem but it is also a problem Bush has neglected for four years. If Bush is suddenly in a hurry to deal with Iran, it is likely his falling numbers are the real issue. The letter by the Democrats is a step in the right direction and is far more than the overly compliant Republicans are willing to do. But it is important to be clear that Bush cannot justify a war if he hasn't even bothered to engage in diplomacy. Americans better decide just how much incompetence and recklessness they are willing to accept from President Bush. There is no doubt that our military can inflict serious damage on Iran. But with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in charge, no one should fool themselves into believing there will be no damage to the United States.

Now right wing Republicans may find it satisfying to make all kinds of noise and boasts about Iran but I don't see them making a stampede to their local military recruitment offices to help Bush finish his first two wars and fight another war in Iran. That speaks volumes to all of us. If Bush goes to war in Iran, expect a draft and expect $5.00 a gallon.

It's time for cooler heads everywhere to start prevailing. So, yes, I very much applaud what Senator Reid and other Democrats are doing here and anyone still calling for an immediate war with Iran clearly doesn't know what they're talking about.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bush's Credibility Problem and the Media

The decline of the mainstream media can be traced back to the 1980s with the failure to report on the death squads in El Salvador. I learned about the death squads from several different sources, including two doctors who worked for Doctors without Borders; both doctors had spent a summer in El Salvador. I wasn't looking for trouble. I just kept meeting people who had been to El Salvador and I asked questions and was puzzled by the answers. I figured the new star system at various news outlets was sorting itself out and would eventually catch up. The mainstream media in many ways never did fully catch up to a rapidly changing world. For one thing, there was too much profit in covering things like the O.J. Simpson affair.

In the 1990s, things only got worse and the decline of the mainstream media began to accelerate. It was embarrassing to watch people imitate Rush Limbaugh. I kept reading different newspapers and magazines doing my best to piece together what was going on; though, towards the late nineties, I stopped paying much attention to Newsweek or Time whose groupthink was drifting to the right.

After 9/11, the mainstream media began to embarrass itself further by spending too many hours of the day swallowing line, hook and sinker everything that came out of the White House. There were a handful of exceptions scattered around all the major outlets but, like many people, I began to get news hungry because it wasn't hard to notice a lot of holes in the news stories and various contradictions. In the wake of 9/11, Iran, having nothing to do with al Qaida, offered its sympathies and several commentators who apparently missed the groupthink memo believed there was an opportunity after 9/11 to make a fresh start in several areas of diplomacy including Iran. But, by the time of Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address, Iran had returned, in the administration's eyes, to being a member of the axis of evil (history is not going to have kind words for that speech and the two addresses that followed; the factual errors alone will always haunt Bush's record).

For the last year, there have been signs that journalists, particularly reporters that do all the hard work of developing sources and information, are finally paying more attention. But there are still plenty of bad days, and even on good days there are things being said that should have been said four years ago. Thomas Friedman has finally come out and said that Bush isn't particularly competent and not particularly honest which is a theme I have been pushing in my small way for more than three years, long before I started this blog. I've had lots of good company but it wasn't enough to get through to the American people until the last year or so.

I still find it hard some days to read magazines like Newsweek. But here's an article by Eleanor Clift of Newsweek that says some useful things but I don't feel obliged to include the pargraphs that aren't particularly useful:
President Bush’s call for a “rational middle ground” on immigration injects a welcome note of sanity into the debate. But that’s not what Bush’s conservative base is looking for. They want red meat, and they won’t be placated by mostly symbolic moves like Bush’s proposal to dispatch the National Guard to the Mexican border and Senate votes to build a partial fence and limit the number of guest workers.

After five and a half years of governing from the irrational exuberant right, Bush’s ability to lead the country on a middle path has been lost. He may have stumbled onto the right message, but he’s the wrong messenger. It’s like his call to break our addiction to oil, which was a line in his State of the Union Message. From a former oilman who as president championed tax breaks for more drilling, it was a brazen left-hand turn, and it went mostly unheeded.


Bush is flailing around trying to find the wedge issue that will win back his base, which makes him vulnerable to Buchanan’s nativist ranting. The irony is that Bush’s approach on immigration is a glimpse into what could have been, centrist politics with broad appeal, but it’s too late for that. He spent his entire presidency courting his conservative base, and they won’t put up with this betrayal. “This is the most deeply divisive issue in the party since his father raised taxes,” says Marshall Wittmann, who advised John McCain before joining the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Over at Third Way, another centrist group, there’s an office pool on how low Bush can go in the polls (entries range from 27 percent down to 21 percent). Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners, "I can't think of any single issue, in the 18 years I have been on the air, which has Republicans more up in arms than this one."

Bush is down in the polls because of his policies, not because he’s hit a patch of bad luck. These are self-inflicted wounds. Republicans held out as long as they could, but they’ve had enough, too, of a war that’s taking lives and draining resources and government spending that’s out of control. Just two months after Congress increased the debt ceiling, another hike is needed—the fifth since Bush took office—bringing the amount owed to almost $10 trillion dollars. Bush has built up more foreign-held debt in five years than all previous presidents together accumulated over 224 years. The rebellion over immigration has become the touchstone for conservative anger at Bush over a range of disappointments. “This is where they’re venting,” says Wittmann.

Yes, some useful things are said, but the Newsweek article spends too much time on Buchanan whose record has never been particularly illuminating or productive. The irony is that Pat Buchanan once held an alternate Republican mini-convention in Escondido, California, the stomping grounds of Randy 'Duke' Cunningham. Associating Buchanan with Cunningham may seem unfair but in the years before that convention was held, seminars were being held in the area for right wingers from all over the country with one theme dominating the discussions: how to take 25% of the voters and create a majority in Congress. All I will say is that the discussions were not tame and were not exactly in the Christian spirit.

The media has to accept some responsibility for offering legitimacy to various voices who have been proven wrong over and over. As an example, why are Richard Perle and Bill Kristol still given air time given all the things these two neoconservatives have said that have turned out to be absolute nonsense? Even President Reagan, of all people, made more sense. There is still a long ways to go before reality returns and hits a lot of people in the face. The next president needs to be someone who can look at the facts squarely, not with resentment, firings and fear-mongering, but with courage and a great deal of honest hard work.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bush Can't Handle the Truth

When Bush was young, he hated confronting unhappy facts. If he was losing a game, he would either change the rules or walk off. That's how Bush handles reality and that's why he lives in a bubble. If somebody tells him something he doesn't want to hear, he either tunes it out or fires the person. Ken Silverstein of Harper's Magazine reminds us of a story that appeared in The New York Times:
The New York Times and others have reported that in 2003, the CIA station chief in Baghdad authored several special field reports that offered extremely negative assessments of the situation on the ground in Iraq—assessments that later proved to be accurate. The field reports, known as “Aardwolfs,” were angrily rejected by the White House. Their author—who I'm told was a highly regarded agency veteran named Gerry Meyer—was soon pushed out of the CIA, in part because his reporting angered the See No Evil crowd within the Bush administration. “He was a good guy,” one recently retired CIA official said of Meyer, “well-wired in Baghdad, and he wrote a good report. But any time this administration gets bad news, they say the critics are assholes and defeatists, and off we go down the same path with more pressure on the accelerator.”

In 2004 Meyer was replaced with a new CIA station chief in Baghdad, who that year filed six Aardwolfs, which, sources told me, were collectively as pessimistic about the situation in Iraq as the ones sent by his predecessor. The station chief finished his assignment in December 2004; he was not fired, but according to one source is now “a pariah within the system.” Three other former intelligence officials gave me virtually identical accounts, with one saying the ex–station chief was “treated like shit” and “farmed out.” (I was given the former station chief's name and current position, but I am not publishing the information because he is still employed by the CIA.)

As has been the case with other people deemed to be insufficiently loyal, the White House went fishing for dirt on the two station chiefs, including information on their political affiliations....

We know that Bush is incompetent. We know that he is reckless. We know at critical times Bush has not been honest with the American people. And now we may have to consider the possibility that he is paranoid and delusional and.... I'll let the reader fill in the rest.

Bush's Coalition of the Willing Getting Smaller

If we are to believe various reports we have read, Bush has no intention of leaving Iraq before the 2008 election; he would rather leave the job of cleaning up his mess to the next president. The reality is that the leaders of the nations belonging to Bush's coalition of the willing have usually been playing the same card: leave it to the next guy. The latest ally to turn their backs on Bush is Italy. Here's the story from CNN International:
Italy's new Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a "grave error."

"We consider the war in Iraq and the occupation of the country a grave error," Prodi told the upper house of parliament on Thursday as he outlined the program of his new government which was sworn in the day before.

"It has not resolved, but complicated the situation of security," he said. Prodi, a center-left politician...


"It is the intention of this government to propose to parliament the return of our troops from Iraq," Prodi said, adding that his government intended to continue Italy's historically good relations with Washington.

Prodi did not give a date for a withdrawal, saying a "technical timeframe" would have to be agreed with all sides involved. Military experts say the allies would want to spread withdrawal out over several months.
One loses track of the coming and going of our allies but it looks like Bush's only remaining significant ally is Tony Blair and the British are not happy.

Maybe this nation needs a significant change in the US Constitution to deal with presidents who don't want to admit their blunders. Three years is a long time for our foreign and domestic policies to continue to drift. Impeachment is gut-wrenching for everybody, even when it's absolutely necessary and I personally think we have reached that point, but I'm not certain most Americans have come to the same conclusion. Maybe what we need is a system whereby if the president's numbers fall below 40% in at least three nationally recognized polls, the opposition can call for new elections within six months. It's something to think about.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Reading the American Economy

No, I'm not an economist. Reading the economy is dangerous business these days and may depend on an ability to read George W. Bush's next reckless move. I suppose if I wanted to invest in a few oil companies, it would be lucrative to be a fly on the wall at the White House about 24 hours before Bush decides to threaten Iran; it would be the ultimate insider knowledge. In 2001, I suppose if I had had any money to invest back then, I should have looked up the corporations investing the most money in Bush's campaign; then again, I would have lost my shirt on Enron stock. Maybe the real key would have been to find out which companies Cheney and Rumsfeld invest in since they are after all the ones who seem to be running the country.

Now in 2004, I thought the economy would slip because of Bush's flawed policies and huge deficits. I was wrong. I completely underestimated how much damage Bush could do to the economy without most of the nation having serious enough doubts about Bush to ignore his fear-mongering for fifteen minutes in the poll booth.

With record oil prices climbing into the stratosphere, I was sure the stock market would finally react. Nope. The reality disconnect continued. Or did it? Increasingly, one reads stories that there are two economies in the United States these days: the corporate world with $100 million parachutes for executives and then, the rest of us. The rest of us are divided into two groups: workers and consumers. Now a few people have started noticing that workers and consumers are generally the same people. Worker wages are stagnant but many people can still to afford to buy things because, miracle of miracles, they have a credit card and, if they own a home, oversea investors are ensuring record profits. Of course, some day the creditors are coming but that doesn't seem to worry the stock market which after all consists of corporations buying whatever is left in America that is still worth buying. In the end, for those lucky few tied into the Bush personal wealth enrichment program, the system works rather well.

Now I keep half-joking about all this in this post because I'm losing sight on exactly what it is these days that sustains the American economy, or at least the stock market? And I keep wondering what happens if Bush is truly crazy enough to attack Iran 10 to 15 years before they have a bomb? I mean, the preemptive strike principle was exercised in Iraq and that turned out to be a fiasco. Now some right wingers are talking about a preeeeeeeemptive strike in hopes that will somehow restore their lost credibility. And I keep wondering, just how indestructible is the stock market?

A few days of losses in the stock markets doesn't mean much. And yet, I have this weird vision of our right wing president in his last year of office nationalizing our oil companies, farms, logging companies, mining companies and so on because that would be the only thing left for him to do to keep Asian investors from owning everything in America.

Okay, it's only a bad week on Wall Street and I'm not even a lousy economist, but this story in The Los Angeles Times may be something of an overdue reality check if it starts getting repeated too often:
Stocks plunged today as a worse-than-expected inflation report fueled fears that the Federal Reserve would continue to push interest rates higher — perhaps enough to risk a recession.

The markets' sudden turmoil is shaping up to be the first major test faced by new Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

In a broad sell-off, the Dow Jones industrial average dived 214.28 points, or 1.9%, to 11,205.61, the biggest one-day decline since March 2003.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index lost 33.33 points, or 1.5%, to 2,195.80, wiping out the last of its year-to-date gains. Markets also plunged abroad.

Falling stock prices and rising bond yields are posing a challenge to Bernanke, some analysts said. The markets are, in effect, questioning his credibility as an inflation-fighter, they said.

"Bernanke's difficulty is not that we don't think he's got what it takes. It's just that we haven't seen it in action," said Christopher Low, economist at FTN Financial in New York.

The trigger for today's market slump was the government's report that the core U.S. consumer price index rose 0.3% in April, higher than the 0.2% Wall Street largely had expected. The core index strips out food and energy prices.

Many Fed officials have continued to declare in recent months that inflation was "contained," despite the surge in energy costs over the last year....

Someone please assure me that the Fed officials mentioned in the paragraph above are not, repeat, are not Bush cronies. This country can't afford any more surprises.